Nevertheless, he wrote to his friend Newdick, and invited him to dine, solely for the purpose of talking over this question with him in private. After dinner he broached the subject. To his surprise, Newdick had ideas concerning Nice and Cannes and such places. He had heard about them from the junior partner of his firm, a young gentleman who talked largely of his experiences abroad.
‘An immoral lot there,’ he said, smiling and shaking his head. ‘Queer goings on.’
‘Oh, but that’s among the foreigners, isn’t it?’
Thereupon Mr. Newdick revealed his acquaintance with English literature.
‘Did you ever read any of Ouida’s novels?’
‘No, I never did.’
’I advise you to before you think of taking your wife over there. She writes a great deal about those parts. People get mixed up so, it seems. You couldn’t live by yourself. You have to eat at public tables, and you’d have all sorts of people trying to make acquaintance with Mrs. Widdowson. They’re a queer lot, I believe.’
He abandoned the thought, at once and utterly. When Monica learnt this—he gave only vague and unsatisfactory reasons—she fell back into her despondent mood. For a whole day she scarcely uttered a word.
On the next day, in the dreary afternoon, they were surprised by a call from Mrs. Luke. The widow—less than ever a widow in externals—came in with a burst of exuberant spirits, and began to scold the moping couple like an affectionate parent.
’When are you silly young people coming to an end of your honeymoon? Do you sit here day after day and call each other pretty names? Really it’s very charming in its way. I never knew such an obstinate case.—Monica, my black-eyed beauty, change your frock, and come with me to look up the Hodgson Bulls. They’re quite too awful; I can’t face them alone; but I’m bound to keep in with them. Be off, and let me pitch into your young man for daring to refuse my dinner. Don’t you know, sir, that my invitations are like those of Royalty—polite commands?’
Widdowson kept silence, waiting to see what his wife would do. He could not with decency object to her accompanying Mrs. Luke, yet hated the thought of such a step. A grim smile on his face, he sat stiffly, staring at the wall. To his inexpressible delight, Monica, after a short hesitation, excused herself; she was not well; she did not feel able—
‘Oh!’ laughed the visitor. ’I see, I see! Do just as you like, of course. But if Edmund has any nous’—this phrase she had learnt from a young gentleman, late of Oxford, now of Tattersall’s and elsewhere—’he won’t let you sit here in the dumps. You are in the dumps, I can see.’
The vivacious lady did not stay long. When she had rustled forth again to her carriage, Widdowson broke into a paean of amorous gratitude. What could he do to show how he appreciated Monica’s self-denial on his behalf? For a day or two he was absent rather mysteriously, and in the meantime made up his mind, after consultation with Newdick, to take his wife for a holiday in Guernsey.